Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

Dear Miss Dhlomo

I first noticed you on TV in the early 1990s. I was convinced you were the most beautiful person in the world (and that hasn’t changed). Thereafter I saw the work you did with True Love magazine and I became convinced that black women matter and have some space in the world. As a black teen with many insecurities fuelled by a magazine industry that valued white bodies, seeing black women on magazine covers was comforting. And then came Destiny Magazine. Congratulations on your most recent success with Luminance.

When you launched Destiny I was a student embracing feminism as a lens to interpret the world around me. I became more critical about what empowerment really means in the context of the women’s liberation movement. When I perused your magazine I was very sceptical of what it defined as success for women. I even sent you an email asking you how you reconciled having a magazine like Destiny in a context where the narrative of most black women is not reflected in the magazine. I acknowledged the complexities of being in an industry that unconsciously shapes consumers’ ideas about who they can become in the world (you never responded to the email).

On the one hand your brand has allowed women to re-imagine themselves. But on the other it highlights the class struggle we face in South Africa and promotes the idea of a black successful woman who has to morph into a white version of herself to be part of the world of business. Your business ventures and vision of success have given middle-class women something to aspire towards. As a black woman, I realise the need to change the images we have of successful black women, but it is still wanting.

By now you must realise I’m no longer an ardent fan as I would have read about your latest venture from a previous issue of your magazine where you were on the cover. I glanced at that issue as I often do with many glossy magazines. I have an acute disdain for women’s magazines now that I’m not the little girl who was in awe of True Love magazine. The only issue I buy of Destiny is one with the “Good Schools Report” and the recent one had Minister Lindiwe Sisulu on the cover. When I perused the magazine I discovered that the dress she dons on the front cover is double my monthly salary. As a teacher I understand I am not your target market. I mention this because when I started reading about Luminance and the NEF deal and listened to your radio interview, my heart sank to my heels. I’m still not sure why this was my reaction. I have been mulling over what your success means when we consider the bigger picture.

It seems society has different rules for what success looks like for a black woman. We judge successful women harshly in South Africa because we hope that their personal success will not be individual success. The dominant discourse of the debacle has been about the fact that a large amount of money is being poured into a “boutique” “to empower the empowered”. I realise there’s a side project where rural women are involved and benefitting from the success of Luminance. People have missed the part that you and your partners invested your own money into the business and instead of being applauded for that you have been lambasted. It doesn’t help that the NEF is not squeaky clean in matters of funding projects. It’s a pity they were they only option you had for further funding. Looking at previous recipients of the NEF, clearly there’s a need for investigation into what the NEF thinks of as empowerment. You happen to have faced the anger because you’re a woman who plays the game of capitalism and benefits from it.

I think people are also uncertain about public funds being used for a shop that only the wealthy minority can buy from. Who are those people? We love consuming in South Africa, but we don’t know the finer details and the lack of transformation in the retail sector. The furore makes the public appear ignorant about what real empowerment looks like. Is it empowerment to open a business? Yes. Should we concern ourselves with the kind of business it is? Maybe. Personally, I would have liked you to open a school or support the education of young black girls. But that’s just me, a teacher.

Your project is to enable black women in business to see themselves as powerful and having the relevant outfits to do so. You’re giving women something to aspire for, but whose rules are you playing by? Have you really changed the game? Has your success made the circle bigger for other women?

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